April is Autism Awareness Month
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April Showers Bring Action, Not Fear, with Autism Awareness
By Katie K. Green, MPH, CHES
April is Autism Awareness Month, with many wonderful events supporting the autism community and updated prevalence figures from CDC hitting the news. It reminds all of us, including parents of young children across the country, how common this disorder is: CDC reports an estimated 1 in 68 school-age children in the United States has autism. Many parents find this statistic worrisome. Some days, I quite agree. Most days, however, it spurs me to take action.
As a mom of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and an aunt to four children under the age of 5 years, I worry about autism and other developmental problems. And working at CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities means these topics are top of mind every single day.
While autism affects 1 in 68 school-age children, it is only a fraction of the total number of children in the United States with some kind of developmental delay or disability. Developmental delays and disabilities (autism plus other developmental problems) affect an astounding 1 in 6 children in this country.
What helps me is the knowledge that with the right care, services and support, children with autism and other developmental disabilities can overcome many challenges, participate fully in life, flourish and thrive! The success stories I hear nearly every day from proud parents of children, teens and adults with autism inspire me. They embolden me to take the important action that I, and every parent of a baby or young child, need to take to be sure autism is identified early, giving our children the best chance for success.
Here’s what you can do to give your child the best chance to learn new skills, overcome challenges, and succeed in school and life, whether or not you discover autism or another developmental problem along the way.
Spring into Action!
- Start tracking your child’s developmental milestones early and encourage others to do the same. Milestones matter. While early child development is not a race, and every child develops new skills at their own pace, there are many important milestones your child should reach in how he or she plays, learns, speaks, acts and moves. CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program offers free, research-based, parent-friendly milestone checklists for children age 2 months through 5 years to make tracking milestones easy and fun. Don’t compare your child to another. Instead, use CDC’s milestone checklists to regularly check your child’s developmental health, and ask other care providers to do so as well. Milestone checklists are backed by research and show the skills most children will have by a certain age. They are more reliable and objective than comparing to one or a handful of other children. Completing CDC’s developmental milestone checklists provides a great developmental “check-in” before every well-child checkup!
- Talk, read, sing, dance and play with your child every day. Doing these types of activities with your baby or young child offers the perfect opportunity to observe and celebrate milestones, and strengthen their skills in different areas. Most importantly, it’s fun for both of you!
- Ask your pediatrician for developmental screening; it’s recommended for ALL children. Studies suggest that most children are not getting this important screening, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened by their healthcare provider for general development at 9-months of age, and for general development and autism at 18-, and 24- or 30- months of age or anytime there is a developmental concern. Make sure to discuss your child’s screening results with your doctor.
- If you ever become concerned about your child’s development, take action! Don’t wait. When it comes to autism or any other developmental delay or disability, acting early can make a big difference for your child and your whole family! Remember, you know your child best. If your child is not meeting milestones for his or her age, or you become concerned about the way your child plays, learns, speaks, acts or moves:
- Talk with your child’s doctor (use tips for this conversation found here);
- Share your concerns (use a milestone checklist to point out areas of concern); and
- Ask about developmental screening.
If you or the doctor is still concerned,
- Ask the doctor for a referral to a specialist, and, at the same time,
- Call for a free evaluation to find out if your child can get services to help.
- If your child is under 3 years old, call your local early intervention program.
- If your child is 3 years old or older, call any local public elementary school.
If your doctor has told you to “wait and see,” and you feel uneasy about that advice, talk with another doctor for a second opinion. Keep in mind, your child does not need a diagnosis or referral from the doctor to get services to help.
- If another trusted care provider shares a concern about your child, listen. Although it may be very hard to hear, be open to the possibility that this person is providing you a valuable opportunity to take action and help your child. If you’re not sure you agree with the concerns, ask this care provider to complete a milestone checklist and see how it compares to one you’ve completed, and share both with your child’s doctor. Raising a child takes a village and there are lots of “villagers” who want the best for your child. While they might not always choose the best words for this difficult conversation, they likely care about your child and may prove to be a wonderful support to you and your child in the future. Following up on their concerns can only help your child. It can’t hurt!
- If other parents share concerns about their child, support them in seeking answers! Parenting isn’t easy! So when we hear our loved ones worry, we are inclined to want to calm them of their fears. But parents know their child best, and if they’re worried, it’s likely there is reason for concern. Instead of just soothing them, I say:
- “Have you done a milestone checklist for your child’s age to see if you can get a better handle on what is worrying you?”
- “You may learn that there was nothing to worry about, but I think it’s really important to trust your gut and share these concerns with your healthcare provider to be sure.”
- “Sharing these concerns and getting help won’t hurt and may make a huge difference for your child—the earlier the better. Is there anything I can do to help you do that?”
We all want the best for our loved ones. So, acknowledge a fellow parent’s concern, and provide support in finding the answers that are needed to best help the child.
Finally, help move the conversation about healthy growth and development beyond just height, weight and potty-training. Let’s start having real discussions about our children’s progress and challenges by talking about how they play, learn, speak, act and move, and support one another in advocating for our children. Start by sharing this article. April is a great month to do it.
The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More from PBS KIDS
April is Autism Awareness Month and The Jim Henson Company is getting on-board with a brand-new episode “Junior Conductors Academy.” Buddy and his siblings become friends with a dinosaur who knows a LOT MORE about dinosaurs than Buddy, but has some trouble making friends. Like all dinosaurs, their new friend Dennis Deinocheirus has his own dinosaur features. And, like all of us, he has strengths in some areas and challenges in others. PBS stations across the country will host screenings and events for this special episode and Dinosaur Train has teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” initiative, aiming to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need. Learn more on the Dinosaur Train page for parents.
About Katie K. Green, MPH, CHES
Katie K. Green, MPH, CHES is a Health Communication Specialist and acting Team Lead for the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in Atlanta, GA. Katie often, and happily, brings her work home with her - routinely using the tools and information provided by the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign to help her and her husband monitor the development of their two young children.